Authors: Ashley Bartlett
Vivian Cooper and the DiGiovanni twins have been through hell and back. And they’re still broke and on the run. Life’s a bitch like that.
Cooper and the twins are together again. This time with Reese and Ryan’s fathers in tow. All they have to do is get their money back. But they dig up more than they bargained for in Vegas. And that chick who ripped them off in Mexico doesn’t want to give up the gold. Plus the DiGiovanni family is probably still after them. And maybe the cops. This whole stealing the money and running thing is hard.
Even if they manage to get the money and get away, can they stay hidden? Cooper’s sins have to catch up at some point. Will Reese and Ryan still be her salvation?
Final novel in the Dirty Trilogy
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© 2013 By Ashley Bartlett. All Rights Reserved.
ISBN 13: 978-1-60282-935-0
This Electronic Book is published by
Bold Strokes Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 249
Valley Falls, New York 12185
First Edition: August 2013
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Editor: Cindy Cresap
Production Design: Susan Ramundo
Cover Design By Sheri ([email protected])
Sex and Skateboards
When I started this story, I had something quite dire planned. The failings of youth can be so entertaining. But then my girl and my bestie didn’t like that. At all. So instead, I offer triumph and hope. Partly, because I was told to. But mostly, because they were right. And so I offer hope. Maybe not in the traditional sense. Okay, not in anything remotely resembling tradition. But that’s never really been my scene. If these characters can find life and love in the mass of violence and hatred that I have built for them, then maybe we can find it too.
Thanks to everyone who helped me climb out the window when I got stuck in a corner. To my family, my many siblings and all five of my parents. Thanks especially to Babs for being a mom-shaped sounding board. To everyone at Bold Strokes, my other family, for putting up with me. Carsen, for wanting to read the Dirties before everyone else. Also, for coming up with “Dirties.” Vixsta, for doing all my research for me. Especially for telling me to make shit up. You’re awesome. Jove, for smacking me around. But like in a good way. Cindy, for terrifying me for no reason. I’ve always liked that about you.
And, of course, thanks to my readers. I hope you realize that you have given me far more than I could ever give you.
All of you, thank you.
For Meg, you’re the only one I want to get arrested with.
The knocking on the door was starting to sound impatient. I seriously considered ignoring it. But it wasn’t just me anymore. I had the twins to watch out for.
I kissed the top of Reese’s head. My head got light. I closed my eyes as I let the smell of her hair assault me. When I opened my eyes again they were blurry. I could stay right there, smelling her hair forever, breathing in the memories, and never move. Forever. The concept didn’t seem foreign anymore. It didn’t seem so far away either.
The knocking on the door stopped. Shit. I really needed to know who was there. If it was Vito, we were all going to die. Soon.
Slowly, very slowly, I slid up the bed. Ryan burrowed into my ribs. Reese murmured in her sleep. Climbing out of bed without disturbing a sleeping woman was a skill. One that I’d once been very good at. But it was a lot harder with two people. Especially when both of them were on top of me. I shifted my left shoulder up away from Ryan’s face. Then I eased Reese’s head off my other shoulder and onto the pillow. She must have been exhausted. Usually, she woke up if I was breathing too loud. High standards, that girl.
The knocking started up again. Louder. If that was possible.
I freed my legs from Ryan’s, lifted Reese’s hand out of my shirt. And then I was good to go. I grabbed the jeans I’d been wearing when we arrived and pulled them on.
I made my way past the still made second bed to the door. The security latch was in place. I left it there and opened the door.
“Hey, Christopher.” Damn, I was happy to see him. He smiled. Warmly even. “Just a sec.” I closed the door, took off the latch, and opened it back up.
“You’ve got them with you?” he asked. But then he saw them curled up on the bed. In their sleep the twins had shifted closer until their heads were nearly touching. Reese’s hand was over Ryan’s.
“Is Breno here?” I asked.
“Downstairs. We didn’t know if you had told them yet.” Told them that their father was alive and very much wanted to meet them.
“Not yet. And they think I killed you.”
“Long story. Vito told them.”
“Christ.” Christopher rubbed his perfectly cultivated beard. Like he was thinking. “I guess you were convincing.”
“Very. I think he’s gonna jack off to the pictures of your corpse.”
“You’re disgusting,” he said.
I shrugged. I was disgusting. “I’ll wake them up. You want to come in?”
“I’d better. Loitering in the hall isn’t doing much for my credibility.”
I stepped away from the door to let him in. When I closed it behind him, I attached the security latch again.
“Your face still looks like shit,” I said.
For real. One eye was black. The other eye was swollen at the outer edge and tinted an angry red. His nose had been broken. Bottom lip was split and puffy. There was a mottled bruise across his cheekbone that extended down into his manicured stubble. The bruise appeared again on his neck where the stubble tapered off. Another long bruise started at the edge of his eyebrow, went across his temple, and disappeared in his hair. A couple butterfly dressings held a jagged split in the center of the bruised skin closed. The left side of his face was battered more than the right side. Because I was right-handed.
“It was worth it. I’m fine,” he said.
I nodded. “I know this will sound weird, but can you, like, hide in the bathroom or something? They’re going to get enough surprises today.”
He didn’t even question me. Just went into the bathroom and closed the door partway.
I went back to the bed. I really wanted to wake Reese up by kissing her. But I was pretty sure that, sleeping arrangements aside, she wasn’t gonna go for that. So I just shook their shoulders a little.
“Hey, guys, wake up.” That didn’t work so I had to repeat it a couple times. “Reese. Ryan. Come on. Wake up.”
Ryan finally opened an eye. Just one. “Huh?”
“Time to get up. Face the day and all that.”
“What for?” He closed his eye again.
“It’s hard to explain. Just get up, ’kay?”
“Uh-uh,” was her brilliant response.
“If I order coffee will you guys get up?” No response. “Okay, but now I have to take your covers.” And I did. They tried to hold on to them. Reese even managed to keep the sheet for a second. But I won.
“Damn it.” Reese turned onto her back and glared at me. It turned me on a little. “What do you want?”
“To slowly and carefully break it to you that Christopher is here, but you guys are making it hard.” That came out wrong.
“What?” Now Ryan was awake. “But he’s dead. You killed him.”
“Christopher,” I called. “Get out here.”
The bathroom door opened.
“Hey, kids.” He smiled a little. The smile died when he saw their faces.
“Go the fuck away,” Ryan said.
“Ryan,” I said.
“Yeah, leave.” Reese.
“You guys.” I couldn’t believe them.
“That’s good, I guess.” Reese turned back onto her side and closed her eyes. “You don’t need any more blood on your hands.” It was directed at me. And it hurt like a fucking bitch. I didn’t need to be reminded of that shit.
“Fuck you,” I said.
“Hey, whoa. Let’s take this back a notch, all right?” Christopher decided to be the adult. We weren’t acting like it. And it was his role after all.
“Blow me.” Ryan flipped onto his stomach and buried his head in his pillow.
“Enough. He’s an asshole, but he raised you. And there’s some shit you need to know. So get the fuck up and play nice.”
“Sleep,” Ryan said. Reese mumbled something that sounded like agreement.
Fine. They could feign sleep.
“Do you mind waiting downstairs?” I asked Christopher. “We need to talk.”
“That’s probably for the best.”
He nodded and let himself out.
“Is he gone?” Ryan sat up and rubbed his face. “Cool. We can sneak out the back and he’ll never find us.”
“So smart.” Reese rolled over too. “Why the hell would you let him know where we are?” she asked me.
I ignored her question. “We need to talk. About your parents.”
“They’re dead. Why damage the memory?” Reese.
“Can you please just indulge me? Maybe get out of bed?”
“No,” Ryan said.
“Okay.” This wasn’t going to be easy. Probably best to just spit it out. “Your dad is alive. He’s waiting downstairs to meet you.”
“That’s not funny,” Ryan said.
“Yeah, screw you,” Reese said.
“I’m serious. I know this sounds insane. But he’s alive and he’s here and he really wants to meet you. I spent Christmas day with him and Christopher. And we kind of killed a dude together. We bonded.”
“Neat.” Reese. So callous.
“They love you. And there’s a lot you guys need to talk about.”
“Are you fucking with us?” Ryan wanted to know.
“Okay. I’m getting in the shower.” Ryan got out of bed. Finally.
“Yeah. Wouldn’t want to meet Daddy without looking our best.” The way Reese said Daddy she may as well have put air quotes around it. Did they think I was making this shit up?
“Dude.” Ryan laughed as he disappeared into the bathroom.
Yep, they thought Breno was fictional.
“You really think I would make something like this up?” I asked Reese. She shrugged. “I thought you trusted me.”
“Trust is an interesting concept, Cooper.” Reese slipped out of bed. She was wearing a pair of Ryan’s boxers and one of my ribbed tank tops. And she managed to make it look like couture. She grabbed a bottle of water, sipped some, and placed it carefully on the table. Then she sat down and crossed her legs at the ankles. She stared at me for a long moment like she was collecting herself.
Great. I was in for a lecture.
“You said in Chicago that you trusted me,” I said.
“I do. I trust you to keep me alive. I trust you to keep me out of physical danger.” She paused. Probably for the drama. “That’s as far as I trust you.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“I think you know.”
I did not want to have this conversation. Then again, I kind of did. I needed to have this conversation. It was probably too soon. I probably should have waited. Reminded her of the reasons we had been together before we talked. But I wasn’t that smart.
“You’re the one who broke my trust, buttercup.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“You should have told me about working for your family. You should have told me what they do,” I said.
“There was nothing to tell you.”
Seriously? She was going to go with it wasn’t my business?
“You didn’t think it was necessary to mention that your family was organized crime? And, oh yeah, you worked for them.” I was laying the sarcasm on extra thick. It didn’t help.
“It didn’t concern you.” She was getting mad.
“It damn well did and you know it. That’s a breech of trust, darlin’.”
“I’m not the one who fucked some other woman.” Reese didn’t look away from me when she said it.
I wanted to break our eye contact, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t true. It didn’t matter that all I’d done was kiss another chick. It mattered that I had wanted to. I had wanted to fuck someone else just to see if I could.
“So this is it?” I felt my voice break as I said it. The inevitability of four months. Six months. Fourteen years of waiting. The time didn’t matter. I’d known somewhere deep inside that she would never be mine, not really. Maybe that was why I’d spent so long hating her. Maybe that was why I’d given her reasons not to trust me. So there would be something to blame instead of just me.
“Don’t be dramatic. We had a good run.” She waved a hand through the air. “You were right. I lied. You’re good in bed. At least you have that going for you.”
The way she looked at me as she said it made my insides turn cold. Bile rose in my throat, a thick, heady knot that wouldn’t go away. She wasn’t looking at me with detachment. Her disinterest was familiar. I could have survived it.
She was looking at me with pity.
I wanted to go find a dark corner and cry. I wanted to run away. I wanted to believe that she still needed me like I needed her. But I’d been doing all of that since she had left me in Mexico. It hadn’t brought her back and it hadn’t made her love me. So I turned away.
When Ryan emerged from the bathroom, a towel around his waist, whistling to himself, I was digging through my duffle bag pretending that choosing jeans for the day was my only concern.
Reese silently disappeared into the steamy room and shut the door behind her.
“I’m wearing a gray shirt and a red sweatshirt so pick out something else,” Ryan said. “I hate when we’re twinsies.”
“Sure.” I dug around in the bag some more, but I couldn’t see anything inside it. I turned it upside down and shook it until it was empty. Blue shirt. Gray sweatshirt. Good enough. I was standing there staring at the mess I’d made when I realized that Ryan was watching me. He’d pulled on jeans. His damp towel was trailing out of one hand onto the floor.
“What?” I said it harsher than I’d meant to.
“Oh, God.” Ryan dropped the towel and pulled me into his arms. That was when I realized I’d been crying. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered into my hair. “I shouldn’t have left you guys alone.”
“No,” I tried to protest. “I’m fine. Nothing happened.” I attempted to push him off.
“Yeah, of course.” He locked his arms around me so I couldn’t get away.
Then he just held me as I cried into his bare shoulder.
“Some reunion, huh?” Ryan asked when I finally stopped.
“Yeah. Everything I hoped for.”
“Here.” Ryan picked up his damp towel and offered it to me.
“Thanks.” I rubbed it against my face as if that would erase the tears.
“Oh, no, dude. I used that side on my dick. Use the other side.”
“Ewww.” I threw the towel back at him and laughed. He was disgusting. But he’d made me smile.
“Tool,” I said.
“It just had to be her, didn’t it?” Ryan got serious again all of a sudden.
“What do you mean?”
“All those girls. And it’s got to be my sister who makes you cry.”
I thought about blowing him off. But this was Ryan. If I couldn’t talk to him, then who the hell else was I going to talk to?
“I guess someone had to,” I said.
“Yeah, you made enough chicks lose their shit. Someone had to break your heart, I guess.”
I shrugged. That was enough analysis for one day.
“So you want me to put some of that antibacterial shit on that cut?” Ryan pointed at my split lip. Smooth subject change.
“After my shower.”
“I’m going to need you to change my dressings anyway.”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you.” I hadn’t shown them the full extent of my injuries. It hadn’t seemed expedient when we were on the run from Vito. And right then, explaining seemed like a lot of work. So I just stripped off the henley I was wearing.
“What the fuck?” Ryan traced a fingertip over the bandage on my bicep. It was stiff in the center from dried blood. Then he trailed down to my elbow. That one only had a Band-Aid. “Where else are you hurt?” Without waiting for an answer, he grabbed my tank top and pulled it over my head so I was shirtless. I’d never seen Ryan look so mad.
“It’s not that bad,” I said.
“What the fuck did they do to you?” Ryan lifted my arm to look at the still healing scar on my ribcage.
“It’s a bullet wound.”
“I can see that. What happened?”
“Shit,” I said.
“And what’s this one?” He peeled the tape back to look at my arm.
“And this?” He pointed to the lame-in-comparison Band-Aid.
“That one was my idea. We needed blood.”
“To fake Christopher’s death. It’s a long story,” I said.
“Is he the one who stabbed you?”
“No. The guy who did that is dead.”
“Who shot you?”
“He’s dead too.”
“Jesus. Fuck. I’m sorry.” He looked at me with the most anguished eyes ever. Which was weird. Ryan didn’t do anguished. He did goofy and stoned. “We never should have left you.” He looked away, but not before I saw the tears gathering. It kinda pissed me off.